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Missouri scraps but can’t knock off No. 1 Tennessee

The Tigers put up a heck of a fight against the top-ranked Volunteers, who pulled out a 72-60 victory.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

In a rebuilding season that more than likely will not end with an NIT invitation, seeing young players progress and seeing the team fight in road games are what to look for most. On Tuesday night, Missouri showed it has moxie, but the Tigers didn’t muster enough offensive pop in a 72-60 loss to No.1 Tennessee.

Javon Pickett got going early and often, draining a three to open up the Tigers’ scoring. Not long after, he seemed to be able to drive at will, ending the first half with 10 points. The freshman quieted down a bit after the break, but seeing how electric of a savvy slasher out of Belleville East could be is fantastic news for a young Missouri team.

Jeremiah Tilmon logged another quality outing, even if he only tallied up eight points and five rebounds on the night. The East St. Louis native fought hard for rebounds, bodied up Grant Williams and stayed out of foul trouble all night.

One play that was especially promising for the big man cam with just under seven minutes left in the second half. Tilmon caught the ball down on the left block, got double-teamed and fired a pass out to the right wing for a wide-open Jordan Geist 3-pointer.

While Tilmon can struggle to score out of double teams, he’s evolved into a solid passer when teams send pressure. Against the Volunteers, MU was able to punch the ball inside to him and get quick kickouts to spot-up options. The fact it came against the top team in the land could inject more confidence into Tilmon’s game.

While the score may be indicative of a game that went just about as people expected — the Volunteers were favored by 18 points going into this one — it didn’t quite feel like Tennessee dominated Missouri throughout this one. No matter how big of a run the Volunteers would go on, the Tigers seemed to have some kind of answer with a run of their own to keep this one within 10, 15 points.

Wednesday will go down as a loss at the end of the day, but that’s what everyone expected to happen. Missouri fans have to take out the positives from this one — and there were plenty to be had, despite losing by 12.

The Tigers look to bounce back as they take on Texas A&M at 5 p.m. Saturday at Mizzou Arena.